RIGHTS OF WAY WATCH
The Problem Gate
That’s what riders in Stansted Park, near Chichester call it.
But riders all over the country have bridleway gates which they also call Problem Gates or, maybe, even stronger names.
The story of the Problem Gate at the bottom of Rosamund Hill on the Stansted Estate goes back three-years. Up until then, all local riders had to do was contend with what they call, a normal gate. There were problems. But nowhere near the problems they face today.
Says Sue Montila, for the last nine-years Chair/Co-ordinator of Hants and West Sussex Borders Bridleways Group, “Three years ago everything was alright. Then they put cattle in the woods for, what they called, conservation grazing. They then put off-set hinges on the gate.
Sue, herself, has been injured.
“I was going through the gate,” she says. “The gate was closing behind me. The horse leapt forward. I caught my boot on the catch. We shot out into the road. The boot was ripped right open. It could have been worse. I could have ripped my leg wide open or my horses side."
Twelve-year-old Hannah Mudd was not so lucky. She was going through the gate on her pony, Quizzy, when the gate slammed shut on her. She was wearing leather half-chaps. But the gate still took a near-4 inch gouge out of her leg.
Says her mother, Gill, who was riding with Hannah at the time, “Quizzy is a Pony Club pony. She’s a Tetrathlon pony, she’s 25 years old and has been doing gates for a very long time. But this type of gate is terribly tricky. You’ve got to ride through it while holding the handle. It’s not always possible. It’s a wonder there haven’t been more accidents. Perhaps there have.I didn’t know that others had been hurt here until Sue contacted me.I thought Hannah was just an isolated case.”
Sue’s husband, Peter, also a local rider, suggested to the estate manager of Stansted Park that they replaced the shutting mechanism on the gate with a simple hunting gate latch. He agreed. Peter actually went out and bought the hunting gate latch himself. But the Conservation Board said, No. They refused to allow it to be fitted.
Says Peter, “It’s absurd. They could, at least, have said they would trial the latch to see if it made any difference. But they did’nt even say that. In the meantime riders continue to risk themselves and their horses.”
The Safest Bridleway Gate
So what is the safest bridleway gate for horse and rider?
Sue thinks she knows – and to prove it, she has designed and had built what everybody calls, Sue’s Safe Gate for Horse and Rider.
It’s a large box or holding area with normal, old-fashioned bridlegates either end.
“Why do we need self-closing gates?” she asks.
Riders ride through a bridlegate into the box. Maybe even a group of riders. They then ride through the bridlegate at the other end of the box.
When there are no sheep grazing the field, the bridlegate is chained open.
Proof that Sue’s Safe Gate works?
In the seven-years it has been in operation, there has not been a single accident involving either horse or rider nor have any stock escaped on to the road.
Says Sue, "Horse riders are very aware of the need to close gates and are being penalised unnecessarily by these mouse trap ones."
Click on the Stop Watch below to see for
yourself just how fast
this gate shuts.
Other Problem Gates
The bridlegate in Stansted Park is not the only Problem Gate facing riders in and around Chichester. There are plenty of others.
The Problem Gate. Compton Down
Sarah, 20, was going through the gate at the top of Compton
Down, near Chichester.
She was on Beau, a New Forest x Arab bay mare, 20 years old. Just as they were half-way through the gate, a bird-scarer suddenly went off.
Beau shot forward. She caught her girth on the catch which sliced right through it.
Sarah came off.
She was badly shaken but not seriously hurt.
Gill Mudd (pictured) also has problems with the gate.
“You often have to dismount to negotiate this gate – fine if you are riding a pony but not if you are riding a large horse and have to find something to stand on to re-mount! The vast majority of horse riders are aware of the need to close to gates – we have horses and know about shutting gates!
“In the past, gates used to close gently. Now they bite you. It’s as if they’re there to obstruct the rider. As far as the horse is concerned, his instinct is to shoot through the gate as quickly as possible when it is closing in on him. If he experiences a problem, it makes it worse the next time he has to go through a gate.”
The Problem Gate. Lavant Water Meadows along the bridleway which goes up to The Trundle.
Actually, there are no less than four Problem Gates here.
<< Gill Mudd and daughter Hannah
Says Gill Mudd, “I can see that there need to be gates here as there is often stock in the fields. However, these gates have recently been replaced with the sprung type and are really difficult to negotiate.
To have to dismount four times in the space of a 90min ride is such a pain! If the gates opened in both directions and if the spring on the gate was not so strong then riders could negotiate these gates so much more easily.”
Problem Gate. Harting Down on the South Downs Way
Says Gill Mudd, "Another area where you find these awful gates is Harting Down. One gate at the bottom of Harting Down is not only difficult because of the design but made dangerous by the fact that the ground fixings for the gate, which are metal, are so proud of the ground that you cannot ride a horse to the gate as it would tread on the sharp metal edges! There is another gate along from this one but it’s another tightly sprung gate on a steep incline so yet another problem.
Gill's daughter Hannah >>
“Horse riders are mostly folk who love the countryside. We appreciate these areas and obey the Country Code. I have taught my daughter the importance of shutting gates etc and she is very responsible. I feel we need encourage the next generation to use the countryside responsibly and be able to enjoy and appreciate it as well – we don’t need to be putting them off with these gates!
"We have very few bridleways to use and have to go to the trouble of taking the horses by horsebox out to these areas, but I think horse riders are often regarded as some sort of mad cowboy figure who has no regard for anything.”
Tell us about your Problem Gates
How difficult are they to open and close?
Have they caused any injuries to horses and/or riders?
What could be done to improve them?
Where possible, please also send us photographs of your Problem Gates.
The more we know, the more we can help to solve our problems